Entered the Royal Academy Schools aged 16, becoming the youngest pupil since Turner and winning several scholarships. Gained a reputation as a portrait painter, taking many commissions and working with Sir Gerald Kelly. Although he enjoyed a friendship with Matthew Smith, Bourne turned his back on modern art, to work in a classical figurative tradition. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1932-49, and during the war was in charge of camouflage operations in Alexandria.
John Frye Bourne was born in Hampstead, London, the son of a clergyman. At the age of six, during the flu epidemic of 1918, Bourne suffered serious bronchial illness. Recuperating at home, he turned to painting and drawing. Later, at Bishops Stortford College, he was greatly encouraged by art teachers Ronald Gray (1868-1951) and Percy Horton (1897-1970). At the age of 16, he won a place at the Royal Academy Schools, becoming the youngest pupil there since Turner. He endured several terms of drawing antique busts and from life under the tuition of Sir Walter Russell. Bourne felt let down by the painting staff, and sought inspiration by visits to the National and Tate Galleries, and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He was awarded the College's Landseer Scholarship,and a few months later the British Institution Scholarship. In his final year, he took a studio in St. John's Wood, and began to receive portrait commissions and submit work to the major exhibitions of the time. A visit to Matthew Smith's studio in Norfolk introduced a more vivid sense of colour into his work, but in the face of conflicting modern movements of the 1930s, Bourne followed a classical path, relying in observation and technique. He briefly worked as Gerald Kelly's studio assistant, before moving to Hertfordshire, where he continued to undertake portrait commissions. He exhibited at the Royal Academy six times between 1932 and 1949. He spend most of WWII in the North Africa, at one time responsible for camouflage operations in Alexandria. He found little time for his own work. He took up his brushes again on returning, and made many paintings of his wife and family, travelling through Britain, particularly in Norfolk. In London, his contact with the art world was largely through the Chelsea Arts Club. In 1956, his wife inherited some money and they bought a farm in Devon. From then on his painting days were numbered. although he continued to do commissions, the last one in 1969.